“It’s clear this country better brace itself for what is to come,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II said in his opening remarks at a Wednesday press teleconference. His warning came after he decried President’s Trump’s plans to “streamline” Environmental Protection Agency processes to push approval of corporate projects, including pipelines, through more quickly.
“It’s a scary time for indigenous people,” Archambault added. “I don’t think the president has the authority to circumvent federal law. He’s violating our treaty rights, he’s violating our water rights, and he’s definitely violating NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act].”
In July, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued the Army Corps of Engineers for failing to take American Indian input into account when granting Energy Transfer Partners’ easement permits to build the 1,172-mile Dakota Access pipeline across federal land sacred to the tribe. The route also ran the pipeline beneath Lake Oahe and the Missouri River, important sources of drinking water for the tribe as well as thousands of other North and South Dakota residents.
Although U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg found in favor of the Army Corps in September, in December former President Barack Obama ordered the Corps to do a full environmental review before proceeding with the project. He also instructed the Corps to consider alternate routes.
But Trump’s Tuesday memorandum urges the Army Corps to “review and approve in an expedited manner … requests for approvals to construct and operate the DAPL [Dakota Access Pipeline], including easements or right-of-way to cross Federal areas …”
“The memorandum essentially directs the Army Corps to issue the easements consistent with the requirements of the law, and as warranted and with whatever protections are necessary,” Jan Hasselman, legal counsel for environmental law organization Earthjustice, said on the call. “Well, our view is that the law requires a full EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] and consideration of route alternatives and consideration of the tribe’s treaty rights.
“All the memo does, essentially, is say that the president likes pipelines and wants to get the process moving forward,” Hasselman added. “It does not change the law, which is that this project cannot go forward without a full and fair process and consideration of the tribe’s treaty rights.”
The tribe’s next steps will depend on how the Army Corps responds to the memorandum. “If they decide to issue the easements tomorrow, I think it is fair to say that we will all be back in court with a legal challenge to that decision,” Hasselman said.
However, the Corps could decide to continue with the environmental review process, which Hasselman said would also be consistent with the memo.
Archambault has been reaching out to the White House and Trump’s appointees since he was elected in hopes of opening a discussion, but none of them have agreed to meet. “But I guarantee you, because of the way the decision was made and the way it was expedited, that they were talking to Energy Transfer Partners and the oil industry,” he said.
Trump’s support of pipeline projects has raised concern about conflicts of interests, as the president received $100,000 toward his presidential campaign from Energy Transfer Partners’ CEO Kelcy Warren, according to EcoWatch. Trump’s financial disclosure forms also show he has invested up to $1 million in Energy Transfer Partners, and he has an ownership interest in Phillips 66, which will refine oil from the pipeline.
“The lawmakers who allow something like this to happen are fed by the fossil fuel industry,” Archambault said.
The president’s memo does not change the tribal council’s Jan. 21 request that protesters vacate and clean up the spirit camps set up in and around Cannonball, North Dakota, in opposition to the pipeline.
The camps are located in a flood plain, which could become dangerous when the winter snow melts, Archambault explained.
“Just because the executive order came doesn’t mean that [the camps] aren’t going to flood now,” Archambault said, urging those who felt strongly about opposing the pipeline to take their battle to Washington, D.C.
“The camp brought world attention to the issue, and we’re thankful for that,” Archambault added, “but I believe it’s served its purpose. And I’m not worried about losing momentum or losing progress without the protests. What I’m worried about is the confrontations becoming violent, and someone losing their life. If that happens, this is no longer about our right to stand up for our water and protect our treaty rights, this is now about life and death.”
Archambault said the battle has always been fought on “many fronts,” which has included federal legal challenges in both North Dakota and D.C. courts and meetings between the tribe, the Army Corps of Engineers and the former administration.
“President Trump is not motivated by protesters, he’s motivated by money,” Archambault said. “What drives him is money and greed, and when money and greed override law, order, and people, you have tyranny.”
Archambault said Washington’s unwillingness to listen to the views of American Indians on this issue hearkens back to previous injustices the federal government has perpetrated on indigenous people.
“This is exactly how they took our lands in the late 1800s, they’re doing exactly the same thing again,” Archambault warned. “It’s not making America great again, it’s making America worse again. It’s abusing American Indians again, and they’re not giving us an opportunity to voice our concerns. They’re making decisions that are going to impact us directly and everyone seems to be OK with that in the White House—and we’ve got to reach out to them and keep talking.”